As an early adolescent, I spent a lot of time looking at Vogue magazine. I was especially taken by Brooke Shields and her high-fashion spreads.
She and I were the same age, yet she had pencil-thin legs and a mostly flat chest. By age 13, my body was already quite developed. I looked years older than my peers. I started dieting then, and the merry-go-round has, sadly, not stopped turning since.
I can’t count how many diets I’ve been on. At 15, I dropped nearly 50 pounds and was bordering on anorexia. At 16, I was bulimic for about three months until I threw up blood one evening, which terrified me enough that I never did it again.
From age 16 until I met my ex-husband at age 24, I lost the same 10 to 15 pounds every year. I’d diligently restrict my calories for a number of months and burn additional calories through exercise. The weight would eventually come off and I’d feel fabulous. But then the most difficult part would begin.
As most dieters know, it’s nearly impossible to maintain intense fitness regimes and rigorous food restriction. Over time, I’d slowly resort to my old ways—eating a bit more and moving a bit less—and the weight would eventually return, much to my shame and discouragement.
When I met my ex-husband, I mostly stopped dieting. I’d found someone who accepted me as I was, and I began to let go of the need to look model-perfect. Mind you, I’ve never looked particularly overweight. I’m tall enough and well-proportioned enough that I carry weight well—I just don’t feel comfortable in my skin. That remained true for the duration of my 18-year relationship with my ex-husband. I usually felt 10 to 15 pounds overweight and wouldn’t have been caught dead in a bikini or skinny jeans, but I just lived with it.
When we split up, I gained seven pounds almost immediately—for protection, I guess. I then felt 20 pounds overweight and wanted to jump out of my skin. I eventually enrolled in a fitness boot camp. It was excruciating, but working out six days a week and eating no more than 1,300 calories a day (comprised of vegetables, fruit, nuts, eggs, fish, and brown rice) enabled me to lose 21 and a half pounds in three months. I ate out with friends only twice that summer. It was too difficult to monitor my portions, ingredients, and calories at restaurants, so I just stayed home and measured my meals to perfection. It was a highly disciplined way of living, but I looked and felt fabulous. For a while.
Several years have passed since that major weight loss. There have been a few others since then, too. As always, though, I’m right back to where I’ve been most of my life, carrying what feels to me like an additional 10 to 15 pounds. Perhaps this is just where my body wants to be, but unless I’m more lean than curvy, I tend to feel uncomfortable in clothes and out of them.
Honestly, I’ve had it. Diets just don’t work. Kripalu life coach and faculty member Aruni Nan Futuronsky agrees.
In The Kripalu Approach to Diet: An Integrative Weight-Loss Program, she and Annie B. Kay, Kripalu’s Lead Nutritionist for Healthy Living and R&R, help people like me lose weight naturally—something I’ve never tried in all these years.
“Losing weight naturally means attending to the four pillars of self-care (nutrition, movement/exercise, stress reduction, and sleep) and bringing them back into balance,” says Aruni, who notes that weight loss must involve more than behavior modification.
“That’s just not sustainable,” she says. “You really need to dive down to the internal imbalances.”
Aruni says the integrative weight-loss journey is one of “rebalancing and recommitting to what we’re really hungry for.” That might be more quiet time, creative endeavors, pleasurable movement, even love.
But that doesn’t mean you don’t need to make any changes in what you eat. “When we shift from a highly refined foods to a whole-foods, plant-based regimen,” says Annie, “we boost nutrient density and reduce the chemical load of our intake, which can help reduce bloat or weight.”
How you eat is just as important. “It involves mindfulness and the way stress may play into eating,” Annie explains. “If we eat in a calm environment, and really chew and taste our food, we have an internal guidance system that often guides us in just how much we need to eat.”
I know that when I feel stressed, lonely, or bored, I gravitate to sugar and eat larger portions than necessary, often mindlessly. So the questions really are, What’s contributing to my stress? How can I reduce loneliness and what would help me feel more engaged with the world?
While I exercise, I’ve yet to find a form of movement I really enjoy. If I find no real pleasure in it, then what motivation do I have to keep at it?
But the Kripalu Approach to Diet goes even deeper than that, says Aruni. “It’s about giving yourself full permission to “practice progress and not perfection,” she notes, “to allow yourself to forget your bottom line and then, without shame or guilt, to realign and practice again.”
Sustainable weight management and a healthy relationship to ourselves and food are not just about transforming your body. Aruni and Annie say they’re about transforming your life from the inside out.
It’s about time.
Originally published by Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health